The Tax Lawyer

The Taxpayer Bill of Rights and the Right to be Informed: The Positive or Negative Way You Look at It

by Stephanie Hunter McMahon


In 2015, Congress enacted a Taxpayers Bill of Rights. To date, it has had little power in litigation; however, its rights could be given power through interpretation. For example, one listed right, the right to be informed, could be interpreted as a negative right: a shield to protect taxpayer choices in the absence of government-issued tax guidance. Under this interpretation, taxpayers could not be punished for their own reasonable interpretations absent prior government interpretation. Alternatively, this right could be interpreted as a positive right to require the government to produce guidance. In this latter meaning, a positive right could give taxpayers the ability to request specific, binding guidance. Under these interpretations, the Taxpayer Bill of Rights is given meaning and empowers taxpayers. It will be continued discussion by courts as informed by discussion in academia, the press, and the public that gives true meaning to these rights. Much as with our rights under the Constitution, the power rights convey depends on how they evolve.